Published: 7:20 AM - 07-07-11
More than $22 billion in gold, gems, statues, and other treasure has been discovered in an ancient temple in southern India, prompting heated debate over what to do with the trove. Meanwhile, authorities scramble to secure the items in the short term, even as more riches are uncovered.
The artifacts were found inside the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, a popular Hindu shrine that was built in the 16th century and is maintained by the Travancore Royal Family.
For hundreds of years pilgrims donated valuable items to the temple, most of which were secured away in vaults beneath the structure. Over the centuries, those vaults remained sealed, and an inventory of the items within was lost or forgotten. It is estimated that it has been more than 150 years since the vaults were last opened.
Recently, allegations of lax security at the temple prompted India's Supreme Court to order an inspection of the vaults, resulting in the massive find. So far, five of the six vaults have been opened and inventoried, revealing chests of rare gold coins, statues of Hindu gods and goddesses, many encrusted in jewels, and other art work dating back as much as 500 years.
The discovery has made the temple one of the wealthiest in the world but has sparked a public debate over what to do with the treasure. The Travancore family insists that the treasure trove remain in their vaults, but there are many who think that the items should be shared with the world by putting them on permanent display in museums.
As tales of the incredible wealth located inside the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple spread, authorities were forced to increase the security detail at the site. Most believe that the $22 billion estimate is on the conservative end of the spectrum, and with one more vault yet to be opened, they don't want to take any chances with thieves. The temple even installed metal detectors in the past few days to prevent anyone from slipping out with any of the riches.
No matter what is decided, it is likely to be some time before any of the treasures go on display. It will likely take weeks, or even months, to catalog and categorize all the items found in the vault and prepare them for display. Still, it sounds as if this is one very impressive find.